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Child's play: UK's Office of Fair Trading lays out new principles for in-app purchases

Looking to provide more info for children

Child's play: UK's Office of Fair Trading lays out new principles for in-app purchases
Having gone public with its concern that children were being pressured into spending money within free games back in April, the UK's Office of Fair Trading has now published its principles for games that sport in-app purchases.

The body, which investigated a total of 38 releases as part of research for the paper, has come up with eight proposed principles it's looking for the development community to embrace.

With a concern that some games currently break consumer protection law, many of the principles focus on clarity, urging developers to be upfront about likely or necessary costs when the player sets out.

Honesty

"The proposed principles set out the OFT's view of how the law is likely to be applied to businesses in this industry," details the OFT in the report.

"They are designed to assist businesses by indicating behaviours that are more or less likely, in the OFT's view, to comply with relevant consumer protection law."

The eight principles include:


  • Information about the costs associated with a game should be provided clearly, accurately and prominently up-front before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to it or agrees to make a purchase.



  • All material information about the game should be clear, accurate, prominent and provided up-front, before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to it or agrees to make a purchase. ‘Material information' includes any information necessary for the average consumer to make an informed decision to play, download or sign up to the game or to make a purchase.



  • Information about the business should be clear, accurate, prominent and provided up-front, before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to the game or agrees to make a purchase. It should be clear to the consumer who he/she ought to contact in case of queries or complaints. The business should be capable of being contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner.



  • The commercial intent of any in-game promotion of paid-for content, or promotion of any other product or service, should be clear and distinguishable from gameplay.



  • A game should not mislead consumers by giving the false impression that payments are required or are an integral part of the way the game is played if that is not the case.



  • Games should not include practices that are aggressive, or which otherwise have the potential to exploit a child's inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity. The younger a child is, the greater the likely impact those practices will have, and the language, design, visual interface and structure of the game should take account of that.



  • A game should not include direct exhortations to children to make a purchase or persuade others to make purchases for them.



  • Payments should not be taken from the payment account holder unless authorised. A payment made in a game is not authorised unless informed consent for that payment has been given by the payment account holder. The scope of the agreement and the amount to be debited should be made clear to the consumer so he/she can give informed consent. Consent should not be assumed, for example through the use of opt-out provisions, and the consumer should positively indicate his/her informed consent.


Clarifications

The OFT goes on to clarify that, for the purposes of the principles, it quantifies 'children' as being aged 16 or under, though the body notes that said definition may also be stretched to 17 and 18 year olds.

On the app side, whether or not a release is aimed at children is determined by its "content, style, and/or presentation", with games that include cartoon-like graphics, bright colours, simplistic gameplay or language, focuses on an activity popular with children or isn't age restricted all falling under the remit of the proposed principles.

Even apps that are "known" to be played my children could qualify.

Before the principles are actioned, the OFT will now move to share the report with other consumer enforcement groups across the globe in order to ensure the industry is on the same page internationally.

However, developers looking to offer feedback can contact the body at childrensonlinegames@oft.gsi.gov.uk.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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